Real mayors race might not start until after May primary
Many expect top three candidates to fight for November runoff
With none of the candidates for Portland mayor expected to win the race outright in May's primary election, some City Hall observers are trying to figure out which two will face off at the Nov. 6 general election.
The top three well-funded candidates trying to replace Mayor Sam Adams -- Eileen Brady, Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith -- are among 23 names on the ballot, so it is unlikely one will receive more than 50 percent of the vote at the May 15 election.
All three expect the race to go to a November runoff. Conventional wisdom holds that businesswoman Brady is in the lead, with former City Commissioner Hales and state Rep. Smith competing for second place.
Portland pollster Tim Hibbitts agrees with that, to a point. He believes the race will go to a runoff, but he also thinks that any of the three candidates could be in it.
"I agree Brady is ahead at this time, but not by so much she couldn't make a mistake and end up in third place," Hibbitts says. "None of the candidates is so well known to be guaranteed a shot in the general election."
Jim Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University, agrees.
"No one's really broken out so far," Moore says. "I don't see anyone getting 50 percent-plus-one in the primary."
Both Hibbitts and Moore say that one key will be which candidates can best motivate supporters to mail in their ballots. Portland voters are overwhelmingly Democrats, and Hibbitts and Moore expect relatively few of them to vote in May because there are no high-profile Democratic primary races on the ballot.
That could help Smith, who has spent years organizing young people to register and vote as a founder of the nonprofit Bus Project.
Moore is not sure that will be enough to get Smith into a runoff, however.
"Young people don't have a lot of reason to vote in this year's primary election," says Moore.
Hibbitts also wonders whether any of the candidates will run negative media campaigns and, if that happens, how Portlanders will react at election time.
In public appearances, Hales has accused Brady of overstating her role in founding the popular New Seasons grocery store chain, and Smith has accused Hales of creating livability problems in East Portland.
Brady has so far avoided criticizing either Hales or Smith in public.
Introducing the candidates
With a little more than six weeks to go before the primary election, Brady, Hales and Smith are running full-time campaigns. Brady says she has not been actively involved with New Seasons for years. Hales has retired as a senior vice president from HDR Engineering, a Portland urban planning and engineering firm. And, the 2012 Oregon Legislature adjourned on March 5, freeing Smith to resume fundraising and to devote his time to the race.
As Hibbitts sees it, all three candidates need to keep introducing themselves to the voters. A recent poll shows that none has significant public support yet. A Survey USA poll commissioned by KATU in late February showed Brady with 25 percent of the vote compared to 16 percent for Hales and 10 percent for Smith. The largest block -- 28 percent -- was undecided.
Brady started her campaign early and has a fundraising lead on her rivals. Hibbitts agrees that some voters probably support Brady because she is a woman, but says she still needs to prove she is qualified for the job.
Hales is thought to be in second partly because of his name familiarity. He ran and won citywide elections in 1992, 1996 and 2000. Smith was elected in 2008 and 2010 to House District 47, which represents a swath of Southeast Portland.
"I think Smith is the third wheel at this point," says Moore.
All three candidates have reached out to potential supporters mostly through traditional channels. These include public forums, house parties, door-to-door canvasses and endorsement interviews before such special interest groups as the Portland Business Alliance, the Portland chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Portland Association of Teachers, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, and Bike, Walk, Vote, a political action committee that represents bicyclists, pedestrians and transit riders.
Few significant policy differences have emerged. All three candidates are liberal on social issues and support the goals of the city's planning policies. For example, at a March 21 forum on historic preservation and urban design, all three endorsed the thrust of the Portland Plan that has been drafted to guide city growth during the next 25 years.
At the same forum, all three also said the city needs to invest more in East Portland, which is plagued by poor roads, a lack of sidewalks and inadequate parks.
"They all sound alike," Moore says. "I can't tell you the difference between the three."
Some policy disagreements cropped up during interviews before the Portland Tribune editorial board. For example, Brady and Hales both promised to supervise the Portland Police Bureau, while Smith said he would wait to see who else was on the City Council before deciding whether to assign it to another member.
Brady said she would keep Police Chief Mike Reese. Hales said he was undecided, noting that Reese had almost run for mayor.
Each of the candidates has a different grasp of city issues. Although Hales left the council for a private sector job a decade ago, he seems up to date on the budget and planning matters confronting the council.
That may not be enough to guarantee a first- or second-place finish, however.
"Hales sounds like he's running for city manager," says Moore.
Smith also is well-versed in the challenges of running a bureaucracy, although he frequently cites his experience with state agencies instead of city bureaus.
Brady spends a lot of campaign time stressing her business background -- something that may backfire in liberal Portland.
"Brady is trying to present herself as someone who has a liberal business outlook, and I'm not sure how well that resonates with Portland voters," says Moore.
Some Portland mayoral races have been decided in May elections. Then-City Commissioner Sam Adams beat businessman Sho Dozono and 12 other candidates to be elected mayor at the 2008 primary. Mayor Vera Katz beat 17 unknowns to win re-election in the 2000 primary.
Perhaps most famously, Goose Hollow tavern owner Bud Clark unexpectedly beat Mayor Frank Ivancie in the 1984 election.
But Portland mayoral races also have been decided in November runoffs. That happened in 1988, when Clark beat former Police Chief Ron Still. It happened again in 1992, when then-Oregon House Speaker Vera Katz beat Commissioner Earl Blumenauer. And it happened in 2004, when former Police Chief Tom Potter beat Commissioner Jim Francesconi.
The 2012 race could go into a November runoff because Brady, Hales and Smith are all doing a good job raising money and lining up endorsements. Early this week, Brady was leading with more than $708,000 in cash and in-kind contributions. Hales was in second place with more than $447,000, and Smith was reporting more than $358,000, still enough for TV, radio and direct mail advertising.
Hibbitts wonders if any of that money will be spent on negative advertising.
"At some point, if the polls hold up and Brady is still in the lead in April, Hales and Smith will have to decide whether to go negative and try to bring her down," he says. "Then the question is how will the voters react to that? There hasn't really been a city race with negative overtones since Still ran against Clark in 1988."
The three major candidates for Portland mayor have all received significant endorsements or contributions. Here are some of the biggest:
• Eileen Brady - Former Mayor Tom Potter, former Multnomah County Chair Bev Stein, State Sen. Jules Bailey, State Sen. Alan Bates, State Sen. Ginny Burdick, State Sen. Jackie Dingfelder, Portland Business Alliance, EMILY's List, Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council
• Charlie Hales - Former Mayor Vera Katz, former Metro Council President David Bragdon, Portland Public Schools Board member Pam Knowles, Powell's Books CEO/owner Michael Powell, Columbia Sportwear President/CEO Tim Boyle, developer Mark Edlen, PSU Urban Studies and Planning Professor Ethan Seltzer, Bonneville Environmental Foundation President Angus Duncan
• Jefferson Smith - State Sen. Chip Shields, State Sen. Chris Edwards, Teachers Voice in Politics, Oregon AFSCME Council 75, AFSCME Local 189, AFSCME Local 328, Bike Walk Vote PAC